The Big Story

Do you wake up in the morning sometimes, look around, and wonder what is going on in our crazy world?   I do.   When this happens, it reminds me of the observation made by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge in their book, The Sacred Romance, that “most of us live our lives like a movie we’ve arrived at twenty minutes late.  The action is well underway and we haven’t a clue what’s happening.  Who are these people?  Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?  Why are they doing that?  What’s going on?  We sense that something really important, perhaps even glorious, is taking place, and yet it all seems so random.”  This insight appears in a chapter in their book entitled “A Story Big Enough to Live In.”

For many of us, when we read the Bible, it can be a confusing book and it is hard to understand what the principal themes are and how they hold together.  How do the Old and New Testaments relate to each other?  More importantly, where do we fit into this story, if at all?

Theologians talk about a meta-narrative– about the big story – of Scripture and it seems to me that getting a firm grasp on this big story is very important if we want to live as disciples of Jesus, if we want to be peacemakers in our broken world.
Recently I gained a fresh insight on the subject of “the big story” that I am excited to share with you.  Oxford Professor N.T. Wright suggests that we should view the Bible as a drama in multiple acts.  The creation story is Act I, where God’s plot for the world is initially revealed; Act II is the fall, where there is conflict in the story.  The remainder of the drama is the torturous resolution of this conflict and it can be divided into four further acts. 

Act III is the story of Israel, Act IV is the story of Jesus (who begins to unravel the plot conflict at is deepest roots), Act V is the story of the church, and the sixth and final act is the consummation when God’s intentions for creation are fully realized and when Jesus returns to earth in glory.

What is unusual about the Biblical drama is that the script breaks off in the middle of the fifth act, resulting in a sizable gap between Act V, Scene I (the story of the early church) and Act VI.   While there are hints in the Bible about how the story will end, there is no clear line leading from the break in Act V to the conclusion of the drama.

William Shakespeare

Professor Wright offers a creative insight on how we can think about “the big story” in the Bible and figure out where we fit in.  Suppose, he says, that there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost.  The first four acts provide a wealth of characters and a crescendo of excitement within the plot and those who found the lost play agree that the play ought to be staged.

The challenge is how to write a fifth act.   The best solution, Wright argues, would be to give key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out the fifth act for themselves.

The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted authority for the task at hand.  The experienced Shakespearian actors would now have to improvise without developing behaviors that were inconsistent or unrelated to the existing text.  These actors would have to improvise and be innovative, while staying faithful to Shakespeare’s authority.

It is not necessary to draw this out much further.  When I read Dr. Wright’s insights on this, I was immediately drawn to the power of this analogy.  What a great way to think about our role as disciples in light of the authority of God’s Word.   As disciples, we need to be like highly trained, sensitive and experienced actors who know God so well that we can improvise and figure out how to live according to his teachings in our own particular context.  We need to immerse ourselves in God’s Word, so we can speak and live in light of the big story God has unfolded for us in Scripture.  Our job is to figure out, in light of God’s character and the teachings of Jesus, how we ought to live now.  This is an essential part of our calling as Jesus’ disciples.  It is indeed “A Story Big Enough to Live In”!

So What?

  • Does this analogy help you?  In what ways?
  • If one of your colleagues at work asked you to explain why you go to church and what your religious beliefs are, how would you answer their questions?  How would you explain “the big story” in the Bible?